How to look German

Hamburg sits on the Elbe river, a few kilometers inland. A cunning tax dodge in 1189 propelled it into becoming Europe’s second largest port, and a world class red light district soon followed, surrounded by dive bars and seedy nightclubs. These days the city is keener to present the area through rose-tinted John Lennon glasses, omitting to mention that the Beatles played the Star-Club mostly because they couldn’t get a paying gig anywhere else in 1962.

The Elbe is apparently pretty deep, because the Queen Mary 2 was there. She’s the largest ocean liner in the world, making the Titanic look small in comparison. She takes around 7 days to cross the Atlantic, at a price of $1000+. Mind you, that’s not much more than we paid for our tickets, and if they have broadband on the ship I wouldn’t even need to use up vacation days on the crossing. I bet the food’s nicer than Continental. If they toned down the swanky ballrooms a bit and made it cheaper, they could have a compelling business proposition. But I digress.

After taking a look at the ships, we photographed our way to one of the downtown shopping streets. There were quite a few goths around, it turned out that one of the local goth/punk stores was in a nearby passageway. In fact, many of Hamburg’s more unusual stores are located in passages that pass through or under other buildings.

The first time I visited Germany I was struck by how much the shopping areas resembled England. Now, it’s even more noticeable, because the colors, shop designs and typography of Germany and the UK are pretty similar, whereas America has an entirely different aesthetic. I’m not even going to start on Texas.

To my eye, there were two distinct classes of German. Most people looked like they could have stepped out of any English high street; similar faces, similar clothes, similar mannerisms. But amongst them were members of the second group, people who looked really really German. I found myself doing a lot of peoplewatching, trying to work out what the tell-tale clues were.

If you’re a woman, cutting your hair short and dying it red is a good start. If you’re young, try wearing jeans which are pre-distressed to look fashionably old, and make sure they are always immaculately clean and carefully ironed. Wireframe or rimless glasses are good, obviously. Make sure you stand erect and walk purposefully. Avoid tattoos and piercings. There are probably other hints, but I wasn’t able to discern them.

I’d estimate that at least 90% of German drivers choose German cars. In rough order of popularity: Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Smart and Opel. I also saw a sprinkling of Peugeots, which you never see in the USA. There were a few Fords, but that was it as far as US brands go. Some Toyotas, but not many.

The UK used to be a bit like that; there were British cars everywhere. That was before British Leyland started destroying the UK automobile industry in the 1970s, via a cunning combination of going on strike a lot and making cars that were shit. Changing their name to Rover in the mid 80s wasn’t enough to fool anyone, though they managed to limp on until 2005 before the final bankruptcy hit. My point is, VW’s quality control may have slumped in recent years, but German cars are still good enough that Germans still buy them.

We met Ute after work, and she drove us back to the apartment. We stopped at Aldi to get some food, and I had to resist the temptation to buy cereal just because it was called Honey Balls.